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Jesus Christ was a Progressive Because He Advocated Income Redistribution to Help the Poor

by Lawrence W. Reed

JesusYou don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the deceit in
this canard. You can be a person of any faith or no faith at all.
You just have to appreciate facts.

I first heard something similar to this cliché some 40 years
ago. As a Christian, I was puzzled. In Christ’s view, the most
important decision a person would make in his earthly lifetime was
to accept or reject Him for whom He claimed to be-God in the flesh
and the savior of mankind. That decision was clearly to be a very
personal one-an individual and voluntary choice. He constantly
stressed inner, spiritual renewal as far more critical to
well-being than material things. I wondered, “How could the same
Christ advocate the use of force to take stuff from some and give
it to others?” I just couldn’t imagine Him supporting a fine or a
jail sentence for people who don’t want to fork over their money
for food stamp programs.

“Wait a minute,” you say. “Didn’t He answer, ‘Render unto Caesar
the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are
God’s’ when the Pharisees tried to trick Him into denouncing a
Roman-imposed tax?” Yes indeed, He did say that. It’s found first
in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 22, verses 15-22 and later in the
Gospel of Mark, chapter 12, verses 13-17. But notice that
everything depends on just what did truly belong to Caesar and what
didn’t, which is actually a rather powerful endorsement of property
rights. Christ said nothing like “It belongs to Caesar if Caesar
simply says it does, no matter how much he wants, how he gets it,
or how he chooses to spend it.”

The fact is, one can scour the Scriptures with a fine-tooth comb
and find nary a word from Christ that endorses the forcible
redistribution of wealth by political authorities. None,
period.

“But didn’t Christ say he came to uphold the law?” you ask. Yes,
in Matthew 5: 17-20, he declares, “Do not think that I have come to
abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them
but to fulfill them.” In Luke 24: 44, He clarifies this when he
says “…[A]ll things must be fulfilled which were written in the law
of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.”
He was not saying, “Whatever laws the government passes, I’m all
for.” He was speaking specifically of the Mosaic Law (primarily the
Ten Commandments) and the prophecies of His own coming.

Consider the 8th of the Ten Commandments: “You
shall not steal.” Note the period after the word “steal.” This
admonition does not read, “You shall not steal unless the other guy
has more than you do” or “You shall not steal unless you’re
absolutely positive you can spend it better than the guy who earned
it.” Nor does it say, “You shall not steal but it’s OK to hire
someone else, like a politician, to do it for you.”

In case people were still tempted to steal, the
10th Commandment is aimed at nipping in the bud one
of the principal motives for stealing (and for redistribution):
“You shall not covet.” In other words, if it’s not yours, keep your
hands off of it.

In Luke 12: 13-15, Christ is confronted with a redistribution
request. A man with a grievance approaches him and demands,
“Master, speak to my brother and make him divide the inheritance
with me.” The Son of God, the same man who wrought miraculous
healings and calmed the waves, replies thusly: “Man, who made
me
 a judge or divider over you? Take heed
and beware of covetousness, for a man’s wealth does not consist of
the material abundance he possesses.” Wow! He could have equalized
the wealth between two men with a wave of His hand but he chose to
denounce envy instead.

“What about the story of the Good Samaritan? Doesn’t that make a
case for government welfare programs, if not outright
redistribution?” you inquire. The answer is an emphatic NO!”
Consider the details of the story, as recorded in Luke 10: 29-37: A
traveler comes upon a man at the side of a road. The man had been
beaten and robbed and left half-dead. What did the traveler do? He
helped the man himself, on the spot, with his own resources. He did
not say, “Write a letter to the emperor” or “Go see your social
worker” and walk on. If he had done that, he would more likely be
known today as the “Good-for-nothing Samaritan,” if
he was remembered at all.

What about the reference, in the Book of Acts, to the early
Christians selling their worldly goods and sharing communally in
the proceeds? That sounds like a progressive utopia. On closer
inspection, however, it turns out that those early Christians did
not sell everything they had and were not commanded or expected to
do so. They continued to meet in their own private homes, for
example. In his contributing chapter to the 2014 book, “For the
Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty,” Art Lindsley of the
Institute for Faith, Work and Economics writes,

Again, in this passage from Acts, there is no mention of the
state at all.  These early believers contributed their goods freely, without
coercion, voluntarily. Elsewhere in Scripture we see that
Christians are even instructed to give in just this manner, freely,
for “God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). There is
plenty of indication that private property rights were still in
effect….

It may disappoint progressives to learn that Christ’s words and
deeds repeatedly upheld such critically-important, capitalist virtues
as contract, profit and private property. For example, consider His
“Parable of the Talents” (see one of the recommended readings
below). Of several men in the story, the one who takes his money
and buries it is reprimanded while the one who invests and
generates the largest return is applauded and rewarded.

Though not central to the story, good lessons in
supply-and-demand as well as the sanctity of contract are apparent
in Christ’s “Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.” A landowner
offers a wage to attract workers for a day of urgent work picking
grapes. Near the end of the day, he realizes he has to quickly hire
more and to get them, he offers for an hour of work what he
previously had offered to pay the first workers for the whole day.
When one of those who worked all day complained, the landowner
answered, “I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you
agree to work for a denarius?  
Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the
same as I gave you.  Don’t I have
the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious
because I am generous?”

The well-known “Golden Rule” comes from the lips of Christ
Himself, in Matthew 7:12. “So in everything, do unto
others what you would have them do unto you
, for this sums
up the Law and the Prophets.” In Matthew 19:18, Christ says,
“…love your neighbor as yourself.” Nowhere does He
even remotely suggest that we should dislike a neighbor because of
his wealth or seek to take that wealth from him. If you don’t want
your property confiscated (and most people don’t, and wouldn’t need
a thief in order to part with it anyway), then clearly you’re not
supposed to confiscate somebody else’s.

Christian doctrine cautions against greed. So does present-day
economist Thomas Sowell: “I have never understood why it is ‘greed’
to want to keep the money you have earned but
not greed to want to take somebody else’s
money.” Using the power of government to grab another person’s
property isn’t exactly altruistic. Christ never even implied that
accumulating wealth through peaceful commerce was in any way wrong;
He simply implored people to not allow wealth to rule them or
corrupt their character. That’s why His greatest apostle, Paul,
didn’t say money was evil in the famous reference in 1 Timothy
6:10. Here’s what Paul actually said: “For the
love
 of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some
people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced
themselves with many griefs.” Indeed, progressives themselves have
not selflessly abandoned money, for its other
people’s
 money, especially that of “the rich,” that
they’re always clamoring for.

In Matthew 19:23, Christ says, “Truly I tell you, it will be
hard for a rich person to get into the kingdom of heaven.” A
progressive might say, “Eureka! There it is! He doesn’t like rich
people” and then stretch the remark beyond recognition to justify
just about any rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul scheme that comes down the
pike. But this admonition is entirely consistent with everything
else Christ says. It’s not a call to envy the rich, to take from
the rich or to give “free” cell phones to the poor. It’s a call to
character. It’s an observation that some people let their wealth
rule them, rather than the other way around. It’s a warning about
temptations (which come in many forms, not just material wealth).
Haven’t we all noticed that among the rich, as is equally true
among the poor, you have both good and bad people? Haven’t we all
seen some rich celebrities corrupted by their fame and fortune,
while others among the rich live perfectly upstanding lives?
Haven’t we all seen some poor people who allow their poverty to
demoralize and enervate them, while others among the poor view it
as an incentive to improve?

In Christ’s teachings and in many other parts of the New
Testament, Christians-indeed, all people-are advised to be of
“generous spirit,” to care for one’s family, to help the poor, to
assist widows and orphans, to exhibit kindness and to maintain the
highest character. How all that gets translated into the dirty
business of coercive, vote-buying, politically-driven
redistribution schemes is a problem for prevaricators with agendas.
It’s not a problem for scholars of what the Bible actually says and
doesn’t say.

Search your conscience. Consider the evidence. Be mindful of
facts. And ask yourself: “When it comes to helping the poor, would
Christ prefer that you give your money freely to the Salvation Army
or at gunpoint to the welfare department?

Christ was not interested in the public professions of
charitableness in which the legalistic and hypocritical Pharisees
were fond of engaging. He dismissed their self-serving, cheap talk.
He knew it was often insincere, rarely indicative of how they
conducted their personal affairs, and always a dead-end with plenty
of snares and delusions along the way. It would hardly make sense
for him to champion the poor by supporting policies that undermine
the process of wealth creation necessary to help them. In the final
analysis, He would never endorse a scheme that doesn’t work and is
rooted in envy or theft. In spite of the attempts of many
modern-day progressives to make Him into Robin Hood, He was nothing
of the sort.

 

Summary

 

  • Free will, not coercion, is a central and consistent element in
    the teachings of Christ.
  • It is not recorded anywhere that Christ called for the state to
    use its power to redistribute wealth.
  • Christ endorsed things like choice, charity, generosity,
    kindness, personal responsibility, and voluntary association-things
    that are irreconcilable with coercively-financed redistribution
    schemes.
  • For further information, see:

 

“For the Least of These: A Biblical Answer to Poverty,” Anne
Bradley and Art Lindsley, editors: http://tinyurl.com/kez32e3

“Socialism: Spiritual or Secular?” by Francis Mahaffey:

http://tinyurl.com/njpd2kx

           
“The Parable of the Talents: The Bible and Entrepreneurs” by Robert
Sirico:

           
http://tinyurl.com/p4gr8yl

“Lawrence Reed on The Platform” – a short video interview on
income redistribution, the welfare state and Christianity:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reo0p9N1p4A

“Beyond Good Intentions: A Biblical View of Economics” by Doug
Bandow:

http://tinyurl.com/n9sjth9

Cliché #20: “Government Can Be a Compassionate Alternative to
the Harshness of the Marketplace” by Lawrence W. Reed:

http://tinyurl.com/nnt3qty
 

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